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Don’t Just Visit Victims - Let’s Prevent Accidents

Wed, 11 Jan 2012 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

It would be so tiresomely boring if it wasn’t horrendously tragic; the spate of accidents has become a ritual with predictable and habitual regularity. The routine comes into its own at Christmas. It happened last year; it happened the year before last and the one before that last one. Sadly, it will happen again. As with any good drama, this tragedy has several distinct parts and each has its own predictable sequences that come like the unchanging seasons of the year.

This is how it goes: first, we have the campaign. The beginning of December is usually the cue for the great and the good of the land to issue sanctimonious calls to drivers to drive carefully; the National Road safety Committee adds its voice for good measure. The campaign goes into overdrive as the month turns into the last curve before Christmas. Editorials are written on the need to prevent accidents; traditional rulers add their two pesewas worth of advice, and as usual religious leaders, some in predictive mood prophesy the obvious, while some simply admonish.

The second part is the accident. The surest bet for any betting person is to wager that the first newspapers after Christmas will carry stories of accidents and deaths from many parts of the country. These accidents happen on the highways, usually at night. They result in horrendously high casualty figures bringing pain and horror to homes across the country. The details are as gory as the results but in most cases they are preventable. Indeed, in some cases it is hard to see how they can be described as accidents because they are so predictable.

Part three is the VISIT. In this scene important people visit the hospitals to which the injured have been sent and the mortuaries where the dead have been dumped. There is an interesting and existential logic to the visit: the more violent the accident the greater the stature of the personages doing the visit. In the last episode of the tragedy, which occurred at Senya Breku in the Central Region, the accident was so bloody that both the Vice president and the President himself did the visit accompanied by a horde of officials and media. For the sake of political balance, high ranking party officials from the NPP also played their part in the unfolding drama. Don’t rule out a prominent Nana Akuffo Addo photo opportunity at Senya Breku perhaps even before you read this article. Paa Kwesi Nduom may even go to Senya on behalf of his future political party.

You have to ask yourself whether this nation, so endowed in empathy that both its first and second citizens visit accident victims, is incapable of preventing the accidents in the first place. It must be blindingly obvious to everyone that the campaign mounted at Christmas or any other time does not work. All the sermons and editorial just do not have any effect, and that is as predictable as the accidents themselves. The preaching has had no effect, and the after-visit is beginning to appear like a cynical manoeuvre for political gain.

This year, the government should take the lead in finding a lasting solution to accidents on our roads. It should not be beyond the conjoined mental capability of this nation to save its citizens from dying needlessly on our roads. Genuine accidents will happen but routine ones can and should be prevented. My concrete suggestion is that the government should convene a national forum on the prevention of road accidents before the second quarter of the year. The forum should bring together experts and practitioners to draw up guidelines for all aspects of road design and use.

If the government fails to do this, civil society should take up the challenge. Between the insurance companies and religious organisations whose leaders show such concern from the pulpit, we should find money to stage such a forum, although my preferred choice must be for the government to do this. After all, the main purpose of government is to protect its citizens from harm, and this it is not doing comprehensively if hundreds are dying on our roads in preventable accidents.

In the meantime, there must be some practical steps that can be taken to prevent road accidents, if we have the political will to do so. Obviously, if the laws and rules were enforced a lot of accidents could be prevented. During the Christmas I witnessed at least two accidents involving motor bikes. Fortunately both were the types which go unreported in Ghana and riders and passengers just dusted themselves and continued with their lives. In both cases the riders were not wearing helmets. The police cannot be everywhere to ensure that motor bicycle riders wear helmets but what about making it a crime for filling stations to sell fuel to bareheaded riders. That should work!

Another example of an easy and effective prevention option is to go after smoking vehicles. We cannot ensure that the brakes of water tankers will always work but you can be sure that a huge vehicle smoking like a volcano from its exhaust is likely to have faulty brakes because generally it would not have been serviced properly or at all. How such vehicles pass their roadworthiness test is a minor miracle of our time, but as a rule of thumb, a smoking vehicle is a dangerous vehicle and should not be tolerated on our roads.

But even a comprehensive plan based on the most scientific data and facts will not work if there is no political will and leadership on this issue. Preaching and sermonizing do not constitute action, and no matter how well meaning the police and the Road Safety Committee may be their work will always be undone by those who know they can flout the law with impunity, and I am not only referring to drivers.

MAY GOOD SPELLING BE YOUR POTION IN 2012

It is the custom for friends and family to send goodwill messages to one another during holidays, especially at Christmas. This tradition dates back many centuries in Europe but became the standard practice around the world when printers of greetings cards discovered their commercial value. Christmas cards used to carry simple “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” messages. But the advent of more adventurous printing technology has made variation possible and popular.

Today, instant and digital technologies have made messaging more individualized and creative, especially with sms or text messages. Unfortunately, text messaging has become a fig leaf for bad spelling which was in much evidence in the last season of goodwill. My favourite one was: May Good Heath be Your Double Potion. I am still working out whether it was bad spelling or a clever double entendre, but on reflection, and knowing the sender, I think it is the former.

Two things bother me about these Christmas messages. The first is why do they all start with “MAY”, as in May you be blessed? Perhaps, Africanus, our grammarian friend, will come to the rescue. The second is why they don’t wish one something specific that can really make a change. I mean, prosperity and good health are ok in a general sort of way, but would it not be more meaningful to wish one a salary increase and freedom from malaria? Or what about this to my readers:

May water flow through your taps 24/7 in 2012

May you never experience power cuts in the coming year

May tro-tro and taxi drivers behave gently in your lane or when you are on board for the next 12 months

May the Spintex Road be empty any time you use it

And finally… May you wake up from this happy dream!

This article appeared first in the Daily Graphic on Saturday January 7 2012

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Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi